Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart with Shortbread Crust

Though I've learned quite a bit in my 2.5 years of blogging -- the photos from 2014 are cringe-worthy and I hope my photos have improved since, there need to be more Rome-based posts! -- the one thing that has remained constant in the past 30 months is the willingness to do the heavy-lifting and extra work for any readers. I like the idea of having a site someone can consistently go to for guaranteed, solid dishes, no guesswork or recipe-hunting or failed recipes needed, where someone (me!) with no culinary degree or fancy state-of-the-art kitchen has tested out a recipe as many times as necessary, made and corrected any mistakes, and has declared it a winner, from one home cook to another. The blogger, who loves cooking, is content to do the work, and the reader, who doesn't have time for all that, comes away happy and full and revered by his or her dinner guests, a win-win situation. Indeed, recipe-testing and trial and error is a part of the cooking process, and if whatever I've tried out doesn't end up exactly as planned, I consider it not a failure but a learning experience that will hopefully make me a better cook. I ponder what I could've done different, give the recipe another stab, and post it on here when I find it's just right. In the to-be-perfected-on-pipeline at the moment: a roasted pear cake, carrot cake muffins, a red velvet cake, and a pasta with pumpkin and mushrooms. Slow and steady wins the race (or the recipe), my friends.

That being said, my zen attitude -- mistakes are valuable! -- goes out the window if the dish that didn't come out so well is meant for -- gulp -- company. After all, when one is a food blogger, aka an accomplished home cook apparently so skillful that they feel compelled to bestow their culinary knowledge upon others, the idea of serving just-okay-food seems just wrong, a bit at odds with the whole food blog thing. You just can't have a mediocre meal when you dine at the house of a blogger, and generally, when there are external taste testers involved, I tend to stick to tried-and-true recipes I've made before. Yes, okay, I admit it -- when my reputation is at risk, I play it safe. There, I said it.

Which brings me to this Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart (next in line after this Fall pumpkin dessert and this apple one). Though I'd plan to stick with a tried and true Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, I threw caution to the wind and opted for this Tart -- the selling point was the shortbread crust, and I mean I have been cooking since I was 14 -- which came from what seemed to be a pretty popular blog  and had been shared on Twitter by Nigella Lawson herself. Sold, I hurried to the supermarket, grabbed my ingredients, and got to work. The tart came together quickly, looked great, and made the kitchen smell fantastic, and then...I took it out of the oven.

The previously glossy chocolate filling seemed dry and slightly overcooked (damn my tiny electrical oven, that cooks everything too quickly!); there were unattractive air bubbles dotting the top of it, making it look like a tart with a newly developed case of the chicken pox; I hadn't been careful enough pouring the filling and it had spilled over the crust and over the sides. See below. Not the prettiest dessert you've ever seen, right?
With a heavy sigh, I deemed it a dud, and an inconvenient one at that. Reasoning that everyone would probably be too full for dessert anyways, I hid the tart under some aluminum foil and let the guests revel in the rest of the meal, this pre-approved butternut squash and caramelized onion galette for appetizer, tagliatelle with ragรน alla bolognese. I was already halfway into an apology for the less than stellar dessert when I removed the foil, looked down, and...found that it was just perfect. The juice from the pears had settled into the chocolate filling, leaving it fudge-y and deeply chocolate-y, shiny and smooth as a truffle; the chocolate that spilled over the crust was just fine, making a pretty contrast with the pale cookie crust; the air bubbles had sunk down into the tart, and could anyways be covered by a veil of powdered sugar. It was, after all, delectable, a winner, with a buttery, salty-sweet crust, layers of sweet lightly spiced pears tucked into a thick layer of chocolate. It turned out to be beautiful with a bit of powdered sugar over the top; it sliced up beautifully; it made people ooh and ahh when they saw it. My guests took a piece, then another, and then tiny, methodical slivers off with the serving knife after, commenting they were doing the tart a favor and keeping it evenThey loved it, and my reputation as food blogger remains in tact. Moral of the story: don't judge a Pear Tart by it's cover. And never doubt something tweeted by Nigella Lawson.

A couple of notes: As I said above, this tart improved a few hours after I had made it, so feel free to prepare it in advance and give the pears and the chocolate time to settle. Of the two pears I used, one was super juicy and ripe, while the other was ready for eating but not quite so juicy. This seemed to work well as the pear juices combined splendidly with the chocolate. This is a nice Fall dessert that gives you a break from those cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg deals, and an excellent alternative to Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving. I don't have many pictures of the tart when it was good and ready to serve, as this was for a dinner party -- I aim to be an attentive hostess -- but let the lack of leftovers be a testament to it's greatness.

Ingredients for the crust:
1 package shortbread cookies (about 8.8 ounces or 240 grams)
1 large egg
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup (63 grams) flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Ingredients for the filling:
2 ripe Bartlet pears, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/2" thick slices 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup (60 grams) semisweet chocolate chips 
2 tablespoons (28 grams)  unsalted butter melted
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (84 grams) whole milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar

3 tablespoons(24 grams) flour
2 tablespoons (24 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

For the crust: place the shortbread cookies in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the egg, melted butter, flour, sugar, salt, and extract, and process again until a soft, buttery dough forms. If you don't have a food processor, you can crush the cookies by putting them in a large plastic bag an using a rolling pin and stir them together with the rest of the ingredients until a dough forms (since I have a mini food processor, I did a combination of these, using it to reduce the cookies to crumbs and then stirring the crumbs together with the rest of the ingredients). Roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. 
Press the chilled dough into a 9 inch round tart pan and prick it all over with a fork (I forgot to do this until after the tart was already in the oven -- don't be like me! Scoring the crust will keep it from puffing up in the oven). Bake the crust in the oven for 7 minutes. Remove and let cool.
On to the filling! Toss the pear slices in a bowl with the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until completely melted. Stir in the milk, almond, and salt. Set aside. Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, sugar, flour, and cocoa powder. Pour in the milk and chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until smooth and completely incorporated.
Arrange the pears in the tart pan -- just do circular rows, from the outside in -- and then pour the mixture so that it reaches the very top of the crust and covers the pears. 
Bake the tart for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until filling is set and crust is slightly golden. Let cool completely before serving.

Recipe slightly adapted from 

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